Win Son Pan-Griddled Pork Buns with Chile Vinaigrette
Pan-Griddled Pork Buns are a signature dish at both Win Son and Win Son Bakery, acclaimed Taiwanese-American restaurants from co-owners Trigg Brown and Josh Ku. In honor of the Lunar New Year, we are excited to share Chef Trigg's recipe from Win Son Presents a Taiwanese American Cookbook, which features heritage pork from our network of farms!
Excerpted from Win Son Presents a Taiwanese American Cookbook (Abrams, 2023).
How we arrived at serving these pan-fried pork buns can be traced back to the days before opening Win Son. Trigg was trying to come up with the menu, feeling vastly unprepared. Josh was scrounging to get together the money to get us through the final stretch. We were wining and dining investors that never came through, washing dishes with hot water heated up in the woks, and skating by in almost every sense.
One of the best pieces of advice that a mentor of Trigg’s, chef James Tracey, gave him, was not to try to compete with artisans that have been honing their craft for generations. Don’t bake bread if you’re next door to an amazing bakery, essentially. We’re in New York and we were confident we could find some dumpling or bun we’d be proud to serve. We looked long and hard for the right type. And we wanted to work with a smaller shop, not buy from a large corporate brand.
One weekend Trigg found a bag of xiao long bao (“little juicy buns,” commonly known as soup dumplings in English) in his freezer that Josh had left there. Being hungry and having to do things like sell his watch to pay rent, it wasn’t long before Trigg cooked them up in a skillet, browning the bottoms and adding water to the pan and covering it while they steamed through. They were amazing. The next day, we met with Yula from Li Chuen, the small Brooklyn shop where Josh had gotten them, and worked out a deal to buy her frozen buns for the restaurant. She ships frozen buns all over the country and locally to grocery stores and restaurants, has a ton of experience doing all this, and we loved working with her. She is a tough lady whose children had to beg her to reduce her work schedule from seven to six days per week. On our first pickup, we noticed that her business made scallion pancakes, too. So we were thrilled when she agreed to sell them to us, as well. Win Son would never be what it has become without Yula, her company, and her hard work.
During the pandemic, prices went up, and we could no longer afford to buy from her. Being the true badass that she is, Yula didn’t flinch at losing our business after nearly four years of working together. But while losing that business relationship was sad, it may have been one of the best things that’s happened to us. We were able to give work to some of our team members who were desperate for it during the pandemic as we worked out our own pork buns and scallion pancakes. We took pork buns off the menu for the first time in years while we practiced twisting their tops over and over again. Finally, we got to a point we were comfortable with and started selling them again. We also started making our own Scallion Pancakes. By the time people returned to the city and business started to pick up again, our homemade pork bun and pancake production was hitting its stride.
This recipe is easier if you start a few days before you want to serve these dumplings, or you won’t have enough time to let the gelatin set and the dumpling filling to gel. No pun intended. We recommend you:
Make the pork stock and gelatin on day 1. Mix the meat on day 2. Make dough and fold the dumplings on day 3.
Monitoring and maintaining the temperature of the meat is important, and letting it sit in the fridge after you mix it will help make sure this happens without any angst. You don’t want to be staring at the fridge waiting for the meat to hit a temperature goal. Letting it sit overnight helps you stay organized and gives you time on day 3 to focus on making the dough.
Cooking is all about mise en place, which may be a cliche to say, but it is as true as ever. Your things need to be in place and ready to roll to maintain organization and efficiency — sure, for aesthetic pleasure and organizational preference, but more importantly, for food safety, cleanliness, and product quality. Treat your home kitchen like a pro kitchen.
This recipe might look complicated, but we hope you’ll try it out with friends and family as a fun project, and freeze some of the pork buns for a rainy day. Find them in your freezer one night, and whip up a delicious and convenient meal.
For the Pork Stock
- 1 pork trotter
- 1 cup (240ml) rice wine, preferably Taiwanese, or use Shaoxing rice wine as a substitute
- 1 tablespoon ground white peppercorns
For the Gelatin Mixture
- ¼ cup (60 ml) unflavored gelatin
- ½ cup (120 ml) cold water
- 1 quart (950 ml) boiling hot water
For the Filling
- 2 pounds (910 g) ground pork
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pork lard (optional)
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce, preferably mushroom flavored
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon neutral oil, such as soybean
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 3-inch (7.5 cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 1 bunch scallions, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons MSG
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
For the Dough
- 8 cups (1 kg) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (120 g) high-gluten flour
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 cup (240 ml) neutral oil, such as soybean
For Chile Vinaigrette
- ½ cup (120 ml) your favorite chili crisp, such as Momofuku’s or Lao Gan Ma
- ¼ cup (60 ml) mirin
- ¼ cup (60 ml) soy sauce
- ¼ cup (60 ml) Chinese black vinegar
- ½ cup (120 ml) neutral oil, such as soybean
Make the Stock
Put the trotter in a large Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring it up to a boil. Skim the foam from the top and discard as the water boils for 2 to 3 minutes, until no more foam is rising. Remove the trotter, set aside, and discard the water.
In the clean Dutch oven, combine the trotter, rice wine, 2 quarts (2 L) water (or enough to cover the trotter), and the ground white peppercorns.
Cook on the stovetop at a simmer until the meat is tender to the touch, about 4 hours. After the trotter is cooked, remove from the liquid and let it come down to room temperature on a tray. Peel the skin off the trotter, chop it up, and put it back into the stock.
Let the stock cool down and set aside the amount you need for this recipe — 1 cup (240 ml). Store the extra, which can be used to make more batches of buns or soup stock, in a sealed container and freeze for up to a month.
Make the Gelatin
Prepare 1 quart (960 ml) of boiling-hot water. Bloom the gelatin in the ½ cup (120 ml) cold water for about 2 minutes, then whisk it into the boiling water and let it sit out until it reaches room temperature. Then leave it in the fridge in an airtight container overnight. The gelatin needs to fully cool down and set.
In a blender, combine the chili crisp with the mirin, soy sauce, and black vinegar. Blend until smooth. Add in the neutral cooking oil and blend until emulsified. This sauce can be stored in an airtight jar or container in the refrigerator for up to one year.
The next day, remove the gelatin from the container and cut it into cubes. Grind it like the meat so it’s the same texture and consistency. If you don’t have a meat grinder, use a French mill or pulse in a food processor.
Make the Filling
Prepare your ingredients. Keep the cold ground pork in one bowl. Combine the ¼ cup pork stock and the pork lard (if using) and keep it hot in a separate bowl. In another bowl, combine the dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, neutral oil, and sesame oil. In a third bowl, combine the ginger and scallions. And in another bowl, mix together the salt, MSG, and sugar.
After you have the ingredients prepped, you are ready to mix. First, in a stand mixer on low speed, mix the ground pork with 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon water. Second, mix in the ground gelatin and mix at low speed. Third, with the mixer on low speed, slowly pour in the hot stock and pork fat. It’s important to keep your mixer on so that the hot fat and stock mixture emulsifies with the gelatin and the meat evenly. THe cold meat will crash the temperature of the stock and the fat and the gelatin will carry the flavor through the filling, distributing it all evenly.
Mix the ginger and scallions into the meat, followed by the dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, sesame oil and neutral oil mixture, and the salt, MSG. and sugar mixture until well-combined. Store your meat filling in a container and set inside the fridge to cool. This will also allow the flavors to marry.
Make the Dough
Combine the all-purpose and high-gluten flours. Mix 1 quart (960 ml) of tepid water slowly into the flours. When the dough comes together and just stops sticking to your hand, but is still as wet as possible, it’s ready.
Portion it out into 4 manageable pieces, wrap each of them up in plastic wrap, and let them set in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Take the dough out and, working with each one piece at a time, roll it out with a rolling pin. Using a ring cutter. Cut out roughly 2-inch (5 cm) disks. Each dough circle should weigh about ½ ounce (14 g).
Remove the meat from the fridge and transfer to a metal bowl. Place that bowl into a container with ice to keep it cold while you’re working. Each bun should hold about ½ ounce (14 g) meat. Weigh out a portion of meat to see what ½ ounce looks like visually, then eyeball the rest. The scoops of meat filling don’t have to be the exact same weight, but they do need to be consistent in size.
Fold the Buns
If you’re right-handed, hold the dough portion in your left hand and, using a spoon in your right hand, scoop about ½-ounce (14 g) portion of meat and place it in the center of the dough. Look at the dough as a clock. Start at six o’clock. Use your right thumb to hold the dough from the flap underneath at six o’clock. Using your index finger, take a five o’clock flap to your thumb at six o’clock and twist these flaps counterclockwise as you pinch them together. It’s important to keep your thumb where it is, continuing to bring new folds to your thumb with your index finger, from four o’clock and three o’clock and so on, each time locking the fold in by twisting counterclockwise until the bun is entirely sealed at the top. You can do this, but you need to make a few ugly buns first, and you need to try. If you can make agnolotti, ravioli, or gnocchi, you can make this, too. This dough is much more forgiving than fresh pasta dough. It’s stretchy from the high-gluten flour and soft from the hydration. Keep folding, about twelve times, and keep practicing. Check out YouTube videos on how to fold soup dumplings, or xiao long bao.
Set each finished bun down on a floured tray and get them ready to cook or freeze. Once they’re frozen, you can bundle them together in a sealed container in the freezer and keep for a month.
Pan-Fry the Buns
Add the neutral oil to a nonstick pan and set a batch of the buns onto a surface with ½ inch (12 mm) space in between each one. They grow a little as they cook.
Add cold water until the buns are halfway submerged. Place the lid on the pan, cook on high for 5 minutes if frozen or about 2 minutes if fresh, then medium-low for 4 minutes. Cook until the water has evaporated and the buns are golden brown.
Top with Chile Vinaigrette.